By Alicia Buller
Senior UK and UAE politicians convene in London in what experts have described as a 'concerted drive' by Britain to strengthen relationships
Senior UK and UAE politicians convened in London this week in what experts have described as a ‘concerted drive’ by Britain to strengthen relationships with ‘key partners’ ahead of the Brexit cut off date in March next year.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation met with Sajid Javid, UK Home Secretary and Liam Fox, UK Secretary of State for International Trade, on Monday in what was described as a ‘private meeting’ by the UK Home Office.
According to the Dubai state news outlet WAM, the meeting ‘discussed ways to develop aspects of joint cooperation between the two countries in various fields for the benefit the peoples of the two countries and highlighted the UAE's interest in enhancing the volume of joint investments with the United Kingdom.’
“UK relations with the UAE are witnessing continuous development in various fields, especially economic, investment, educational, cultural and social fields,” WAM said.
Wes Schwalje, COO of Dubai-based consulting and research firm Tahseen Consulting, told Arabian Business: “With Brexit looming closer, there is now a concerted drive from the UK to strengthen trade relationships with key trade partners like the UAE through trade bilateral agreements.
“A UK-GCC agreement would give the UK an edge over the EU, which has been engaged in slow moving trade talks with the GCC on a free trade agreement since 1990.”
Schwalje added: “A UK-UAE free trade agreement would give British exports a competitive edge at a very critical time and would be mutually beneficial by increasing trade and investment between the two countries. The agreement would likely easily enable the UK and UAE to meet their target of £25 billion in bilateral trade by 2020.”
Total trade between the UK and UAE rose by over 12 percent to £17.5 billion ($22.4 billion) in 2017, it was announced this week. Last year, UK exports to UAE amounted to £11.1 billion while UK imports from the UAE were £6.4 billion as the UK reported a trade surplus of £4.7 billion.
This week’s UK-UAE trade visit also saw HH Sheikh Abdullah launch a new meeting point for UAE-linked communities in Britain. ‘The Emirates Society’ is a major new initiative with the backing of the UAE embassy under the patronage of Suleiman Almazroui, the UAE ambassador.
Chris Doyle, director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding (Cabu), said the UAE-UK relationship is now extending ‘beyond trade’.
“The inauguration of The Emirates Society indicates a bi-lateral friendship. It broadens the relationship between the two countries and brings in areas of cultural dynamics and knowledge exchange,” he told Arabian Business.
Doyle added that the latest UAE-UK trade figures were ‘impressive’ and he expects to see further uplift in trade volumes as Britain continues to promote its ‘high tech, educational, environmental and cultural services’ to the UAE.
Schwalje added that the renewable energy sector presents a considerable opportunity for bilateral cooperation. “With the UAE targeting 50 per cent of energy via renewable sources by 2050, the UK can aid in technology transfer to achieve this goal and capitalise on the $163 billion planned investments in the renewable energy sector,” he said.
The COO also predicted growth in financial services sector trade in the lead up to Brexit. He said: “With 66 per cent of UK businesses eyeing Dubai as a favourable regional business hub, there is likely to be increased demand for better financial services in the near future.”
Schwalje also pinpointed the transportation sector as a major growth opportunity.
“The push towards smart mobility and electric vehicles is in sync with long-term strategic goals for the UAE and UK. Both countries can cooperate in infrastructure development to expand innovative transportation solutions,” he said.